To fulfill their duty to ensure that their clients can make the best use of their time and resources, many IT consultants are taking the lead role in helping organizations establish formal project management processes that encourage the delivery of work initiatives on time, within budget, and to an agreed-on level of quality.

Part of the ability to execute better, faster, and cheaper comes from the organization’s implementation of common processes and practices across the entire organization. That way, there is very little learning curve for the project manager and the team members as they transition from one project to another.

The larger an organization gets, and the more projects that are executed at one time, the more difficult it becomes to enforce this organizational consistency. Without it, though, the full value of implementing a common project management methodology is not reached.

Consulting firms tend to recognize this and usually have a common framework or a full methodology that all consultants use. However, this practice is not prevalent in other types of companies. This is where consulting firms—that have experience with project management processes—can offer help to their clients.

Often, a consultant will help establish centralized organizations that are responsible for varying aspects of project management methodologies. This group may be called Project Office, Enterprise Project Office, Project Management Center of Excellence, or the Project Management Resource Team. Here, I’ll use the term Project Management Office (PMO).

First in a series

This is the first installment in a series of articles that explores the role of the Project Management Office and offers guidelines for consultants who may help their clients establish a PMO.

Y2K projects brought PMOs to the mainstream
Although the concept of the PMO has been around for years, for many organizations the awareness level was raised with Y2K. Many companies, especially larger ones, realized that they needed a concerted and coordinated effort to ensure that their systems could withstand the Y2K cutover.

The basic infrastructure of a PMO was implemented with a single-minded focus to coordinate the Y2K projects. After 2000 passed, many companies disbanded the infrastructure, while others realized the long-term value in continuing to coordinate aspects of project management centrally.

A PMO can offer many potential products and services, depending on the needs of the organization and the vision of the PMO sponsor (the person who is generally responsible for the PMO funding). Before the PMO can be successful, it must gain agreement from the management team on its overall role and the general expectations it needs to achieve.

A typical PMO is responsible for deploying a consistent project management methodology within the organization, including processes, templates, and best practices. This is not a one-time event, but a broad initiative that could cover a number of years.

While a PMO demands precious resources, the hope is that the investment in the PMO will be more than saved by implementing common practices that allow every project within the organization to be completed better, faster, and cheaper.

Since consultants tend to be further along in their adoption of common project management processes, many companies use them to assist in this effort. Here is a list of roles that a PMO fills within an organization and a way to outline the PMO’s influence in the client’s business.

The PMO value proposition
PMOs can be established to provide a narrow or broad set of services. This list includes many of the common responsibilities a full PMO would perform. In general, a PMO:

  1. Establishes and deploys a common set of project management processes and templates, which saves each project manager, or each organization, from having to create these on its own. These reusable project management components help projects start up more quickly and with less effort.
  2. Builds the methodology and updates it to account for improvements and best practices. For example, as new or revised processes and templates are made available, the PMO deploys them consistently to the organization.
  3. Facilitates improved project team communications by having common processes, deliverables, and terminology. Less misunderstanding and confusion occurs within the organization if everyone uses the same language and terminology for project-related work.
  4. Provides training (internal or outsourced) to build core project management competencies and a common set of experiences. If the training is delivered by the PMO, there is a further reduction in overall training costs paid to outside vendors.
  5. Delivers project management coaching services to keep projects from getting into trouble. Projects at risk can also be coached to ensure they don’t worsen.
  6. Tracks basic information on the current status of all projects in the organization and provides project visibility to management in a common and consistent manner.
  7. Tracks organization-wide metrics on the state of project management, project delivery, and the value being provided to the business. The PMO also assesses the general project delivery environment on an ongoing basis to determine the improvements that have been made.
  8. Acts as the overall advocate for project management to the organization. This includes actively educating and selling managers and team members on the value gained through the use of consistent project management processes.

Companies are finding that they need to standardize how they manage projects. They’re seeing that the process takes much more than just training the staff. It requires a holistic approach, covering many aspects of work and the company culture.